Who doesn’t want extra scholarship funding for college? With rising tuition costs, unpredictable financial aid awards, and few merit-based scholarships offered at top universities, affording college is increasingly stressful for incoming students. Looking for external scholarships can be difficult, as is figuring out if you’re a strong candidate for the options out there. In this article, we’ll break down one of the most competitive — and most rewarding — merit-based scholarships: the Coca-Cola Scholars program. Offering significant financial awards and long-term connections and mentorship for scholarship recipients, high-achieving high school seniors should consider applying for this prestigious award. Let’s look at the details of the scholarship so that you can decide whether applying is the right choice for you.
What is the Coca-Cola Scholarship?
The Coca-Cola Scholars program is a competitive and highly-regarded scholarship awarded to 150 high school seniors. Unlike many college scholarships, the Coca-Cola Scholarship is exclusively achievement-based and does not take financial need into consideration. As a Coca-Cola Scholar, you will receive a financial award of $20,000, connect with a tight-knit alumni network, and attend ongoing Leadership Summits. Though the word “scholarship” may only make you think about monetary awards, the Coca-Cola Scholarship is unique in offering long-term opportunities and resources for selected Scholars.
Should I Apply to be a Coca-Cola Scholar?
Excited about the opportunity? Wondering if you should apply to become a Scholar? Let’s walk through the criteria used to evaluate candidates.
The Coca-Cola Foundation states that ideal scholarship recipients “exemplify superior leadership, service, and academics” and are “change agents, positively affecting others in their communities.”
While technically a merit scholarship, having strong grades and noteworthy academic achievements is only the first step to being selected. As an applicant, the focus of your accomplishments is crucial to your candidacy — you’ll be expected to have made significant, meaningful contributions to your community and shown a dedication to serving others. If you’d like to apply, it’s essential that you emphasize these qualities. When you’re asked to detail your activities and accomplishments, highlighting your leadership experience and the positive impact you’ve had on others is a top priority.
Who is Eligible to Apply?
The Coca-Cola Scholarship application criteria are fairly minimal. All applicants must be high school seniors — or the homeschooled equivalent — who will be attending college in the United States. As a U.S.-based scholarship, international students or American students studying abroad are ineligible to apply. The scholarship outlines U.S. resident criteria as including: U.S. Citizens, U.S. Nationals, U.S. Permanent Residents, Refugees, Asylees, Cuban-Haitian Entrants, or Humanitarian Parolees. To frame it another way, if you are eligible to apply for FAFSA, you can apply for the Coca-Cola Scholarship. Though the scholarship is highly competitive and based on academic merit, the only academic qualification required is a minimum GPA of 3.0 as an incoming senior.
What’s Included in the Scholarship?
The Coca-Cola Scholarship consists of a range of benefits. 150 selected finalists are each awarded a scholarship of $20,000. The Coca-Cola Foundation gives students a large amount of flexibility over how they use their scholarships. Recipients are able to use their scholarship fund for up to 10 years and can make independent decisions on when and where these resources are best used. There are few restrictions on how you can use the scholarship award, as long as it is an education-related expense. So, if you don’t want to put all of the money towards tuition, you could invest in a new laptop or pay for your dorm room or apartment.
You’ll also stay connected with other Scholars from across the years — every 5 years, you’ll attend a Leadership Summit in Atlanta led by program alumni. There, you’ll learn from other successful scholars how to continue developing your skills in taking the initiative to create positive change in the world.
How Prestigious — and Selective — is the Coca-Cola Scholarship?
Becoming a Coca-Cola Scholar is a major accomplishment, with an acceptance rate that makes those of top colleges seem easy in comparison. In the 2023 application cycle, over 91,000 students applied to join the 150-person Coca-Cola Scholar cohort, equivalent to an acceptance rate of about 0.16%. To know who you’d be competing against, since the Scholars program is exclusively merit-based, only the most accomplished students — both in academics and in service — will be awarded the scholarship.
Who Are Coca-Cola Scholars?
Coca-Cola Scholars are overwhelmingly successful in their college and career pursuits, typically attending elite universities and moving on to impressive professional positions.
Looking at the most recent class of Scholars, who will graduate college in 2028, many will matriculate to Ivy League and other top-ranked schools: Harvard (13), Princeton (3), Yale (3), Brown (3), Columbia, Northwestern, Duke, Dartmouth, and Cornell. You can read the full bios of the most recent scholarship recipients here.
Former Coca-Cola Scholars have gone on to make meaningful change, promoting equity in their communities and the U.S. at large. Let’s take a look at two former Scholars.
After being selected as a Truman Scholar, holding leadership positions at McKinsey & Company, and serving as a public school teacher, Star Wallin (2002 Scholar) founded Bell Creek Consulting. Serving as CEO, Star works to increase educational equity at underfunded schools and improve economic mobility for students of all backgrounds, partnering with schools in cities including Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia.
Diana Chao (2015 Scholar) attended Princeton University, where she continued to build upon her organization Letters to Strangers, the largest peer-for-peer mental health advocacy organization worldwide. With work spanning six continents that has impacted over 150,000 individuals, Diana has won an incredible assortment of national and international awards, including the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, the Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Award, Global Teen Leader, and Global Changemaker.
If you’re interested in hearing more Scholars’ profiles, The Coke Scholars Unite Podcast (SIP) regularly hosts former scholarship recipients to speak about their ongoing efforts as changemakers and leaders.
Key Dates & Deadlines
The Coca-Cola Scholars application opens at 10am ET on August 1st. Before formally applying, you’ll first have to submit an eligibility quiz by October 2nd at 4pm ET. However, keep in mind that you should check your eligibility well in advance of this deadline, as the deadline for submitting your full application is October 2nd at 5pm ET. So, unless you are absolutely certain that you meet scholarship criteria, make sure to complete this first step early so that you don’t complete an application you are ineligible to submit.
You can find more information on the application process here.
High school accomplishments of scholarship recipients span areas including politics, STEM research, medical and financial literacy, education, and philanthropy. Students have lobbied and collaborated with politicians, aided immigrants with U.S. Naturalization, fundraised tens of thousands of dollars for nonprofit efforts, conducted and published research affiliated with top universities, and founded education and outreach organizations.
Other scholarships you can consider
Equitable Excellence Scholarship — Awarding students demonstrating courage, strength, and wisdom
The National Society of High School Scholars Scholarship — Supports underrepresented students with strong ethical and innovation skills
U.S. Presidential Scholars Program — Designed to honor and support students pursuing the arts and technical education
Google Build Your Future Scholarships — Offers an array of scholarships for students pursuing studies and careers in technology
One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in doing university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.
Image Source: Coke Scholars Foundation logo